David surprises us by saying, “Now I shall perish one day at the hand of Saul. There is nothing better for me than that I should escape to the land of the Philistines. Then Saul will despair of seeking me any longer within the borders of Israel, and I shall escape out of his hand” (1 Samuel 27:1).
It surprises us for two reasons. First, we never imagined that David could join with his enemies or be accepted by them (we remember what happened in 1 Samuel 21:10-15 the first time that he tried to find refuge in Gath). But remember that this time David is not alone; now he is the head of a group of seasoned war veterans. Obviously they are enemies of the king of Israel. The phenomenon of mercenaries (professional soldiers who are hired to fight in a war under the flag of the highest bidder) was much more common in past times than it is today. For the king of Gath, here is an opportunity to hire good soldiers for his protection; for David, it’s a way to relieve the constant pressure and risk caused by Saul. Therefore, we watch an unexpected alliance take place between David and the king of Goliath’s hometown.
Second, we’re surprised because in the previous chapter we saw an outstanding example of Yahweh’s protection of His anointed one. This time Saul
doesn’t fall into his hands like at the cave, but David and Abishai daringly enter Saul’s camp and take his spear and a jar of water. Yahweh’s protection is evident: “No man saw it or knew it, nor did any awake, for they were all asleep, because a deep sleep from the LORD had fallen upon them” (1 Samuel 26:12). Wouldn’t this sign from God be enough to encourage him through any trial? It shocks us that on
entering 1 Samuel 27, David puts his trust in the protection of a mere man, and a pagan at that,… but aren’t we capable of doing the same thing, especially when we are in the midst of long-standing pressure and tribulation? We also feel the temptation to find relief in any way, shape or form as long as we don’t have to suffer any longer. That’s the kind of desperation that drives David to Gath.
Please recognize that I am not trying to justify what David did, just explain it. First Samuel 27 is a strange chapter. Yahweh’s name doesn’t appear. It seems like David never sought His direction. We feel uncomfortable with his deception of Achish and especially with the extreme violence that he uses to cover his tracks. He gets the relief from Saul that he is looking for (1 Samuel 27:4), but at what cost? Will David end up just like a pagan king, ready to use violence to advance his own agenda? Will he get swallowed up in the downward spiral of spiritual degeneration just like so many judges in previous generations? Yahweh’s anointed is in great danger, not only physically but even more so, spiritually. What will Yahweh do in response?
Meanwhile, Saul also has to battle with desperation in 1 Samuel 28. He’s
looking for spiritual direction and relief from his fears, but he can’t find them: “When Saul saw the army of the Philistines, he was afraid, and his heart trembled greatly. And when Saul inquired of the LORD, the LORD did not answer him, either by dreams, or by Urim, or by prophets” (1 Samuel 28:5-6). His desperation drove him to sorcery. We can’t avoid hearing the echo of the prophet Samuel’s words when he informed Saul of Yahweh’s decision to remove the kingship from him: “For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry” (1 Samuel 15:23). Now Saul hits bottom in his decline in becoming a king just like the rest of the nations. He is indistinguishable from them. And Yahweh does not relieve his desperation but instead announces judgment: “The LORD will give Israel also with you into the hand of the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons shall be with me. The LORD will give the army of Israel also into the hand of the
Philistines” (1 Samuel 28:19). The judgment on Saul's pride, rebellion and now his use of divination will consume his family, his army and a large part of the nation.
Two men are in desperate circumstances. Both sin to relieve the pressure.
What hope is there that they will not both be destroyed?